Students: How can I get involved?
Hear from students working with the Deep Green Biotech Hub
Doing Post Graduate Research with DGBH
Name: Shawn Price
Faculty/Department: Climate Change Cluster (C3), Faculty of Science
Supervisors: Professor Peter Ralph and Dr Mathieu Pernice
Year commenced PhD: 2018
PhD Title: Developing Next Generation Algal Bioplastic Technology
After completing a graduate program at Unilever, working as an engineer in factories for ice-cream, iced tea and personal goods, Shawn Price had a quarter-life crisis.
“I was questioning what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” says Shawn, now a PhD student in the Climate Change Cluster (C3) at UTS. “I decided that if I was going to dedicate my life to something, it was going to be helping solve the many sustainability problems that the world is facing.”
He knew he wanted to use his chemical engineering and consumer goods background to develop new sustainable technologies. And with algae, he found a perfect match.
“If you really care about sustainability, you have to think about what are the biggest problems the human race is facing in the next 50 years,” he says. “And whether it’s food security, water security, climate change or environmental degradation, algae has applications that can help solve the issues we’re facing on a global scale.”
We produce 300 million tonnes of plastic products every year, most of which are made from fossil fuels and end up in landfill. Shawn’s PhD research focuses on how algae can be genetically modified to create polymers that can be turned into bio-degradable and environmentally sustainable plastics. But his holistic approach aims to ensure impact outside the lab.
“I’m trying to work on an end-to-end solution,” he says. “The goal is to work out the best species of algae for that process, to optimise the growth conditions of the algae, to do financial modelling. At the end of the PhD process, we’re trying to work on commercialisation.”
Shawn says the state-of-the-art facilities at C3, including a leading algae culture collection, a range of bioreactors, and a Physical Containment Level 2 (PC2) lab, are just part of the reason he chose to do his PhD at UTS.
“The research expertise is really varied and useful,” he says. “There’s multi-disciplinary projects on many different applications of algae, so it’s really great for bouncing ideas off people and asking each other for help.
“Having such an engaged, diverse group, it makes C3 a great place to be doing this kind of work.”
Interning with DGBH
Name: Alex Aves
Degree: Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation
Majoring in: Environmental Science
Year commenced: 2017
Like many students, Alex Aves didn’t know what she wanted to study before coming to UTS. But she knew she wanted to make a difference.
“Climate change is the biggest issue facing our planet at the moment so I thought studying environmental science would be the best way to help create change,” says the second-year Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII) student. “It’s what is needed at the moment.”
In her first year, a poster on campus led her to the Climate Change Cluster (C3) and an email to C3 Director Peter Ralph saw her paired up with seagrass researcher Manoj Kumar to help work on his climate adaptability research. Now in her second year, she’s earning credit points towards her degree for her work with C3 Research Associate Audrey Commault on microalgae.
“It’s crazy how much impact algae can have in the world. Talking to people working in the area, everyone is doing weird stuff that you wouldn’t think of initially, but these plant proteins or microalgae could change the world,” she says.
At the moment, she’s working with Audrey on ways to produce a certain compound that’s used in many industries, in a more sustainable way. And Alex isn’t just sitting on the sidelines. “Audrey and the others have really taken me in. They are happy to do practice sessions before we do the real experiments so I know what I’m doing and can actually help. They take their time out to let me do it. It’s not like I just stand there and watch.”
Her BCII classes also complement her work in the lab. Working in groups with her fellow students from across the university, they tackle real industry problems, many of which centre around sustainability issues.
Alex still doesn’t know exactly what career she wants to pursue but she’s confident that the practical nature of her degree has put her on the right path. “You can study it but it’s totally different when you’re actually doing hands-on work. You’re involved in something that’s going towards real research” she says.
“I never thought I’d be working with algae every week, but I’m glad I have found the opportunity to be involved with C3.”
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